A new study has found that toddlers with autism who played with a limited number of toys showed more improvement in their communication skills following parent-guided treatment than those receiving other community-based treatments.
The study is the first to examine this autism treatment - called Hanen's More Than Words - for children younger than 2 showing early signs of an autism spectrum disorder.
"This report adds to our emerging knowledge about which interventions work for which kids. It will help match children with the right intervention and not waste time enrolling them in treatments that are not well-suited for them," said co-author Wendy Stone, director of the UW Autism Center.
One in 110 children has autism spectrum disorders, which include autistic disorder, Asperger's syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified.
Few autism interventions focus on toddlers - children aged 1 to 3 - and those that do can be time-intensive and expensive.
Stone and her collaborators wanted to study the effectiveness of a short-term, relatively low-cost intervention for toddlers showing warning signs.
Sixty-two children (51 boys and 11 girls) younger than age 2 and meeting criteria for autism disorders, participated in the study with their parents.
The researchers measured the toddlers' baseline social and communication skills during a pretest in which parents and their children played with toys and read books while a researcher observed.
Then the youngsters were randomly assigned either to the Hanen's More Than Words program or to a treatment-as-usual control condition.
The parents in the treatment group learned strategies to help their toddlers communicate, such as practicing taking turns, encouraging eye contact and modeling simple sentences from the child's perspective.
To the researchers' surprise, the intervention did not make a difference in communication skills when they compared the 32 children in the intervention group and the 30 children in the no-treatment group.
But they did find that the intervention helped a subset of the children. Kids who played with fewer toys during the pretest showed more improvement if they received the treatment than if they didn't.
They showed more instances of making eye contact, pointing to or reaching for objects of interest and showing or giving the experimenter a toy.
The study appeared online March 22 in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. (ANI)